‘Sit Like a Lady’
‘Sit Like a Lady’ is a protest piece that comes from a personal place of anger regarding gender in society. Seeing a woman sitting with legs apart or ‘manspreading’ has negative connotations; it is perceived as sexual. The work challenges these assumptions, creating new perspectives of women. ‘Sit Like a Lady’ uses ‘manspreading’ as a visual metaphor to revolt against patriarchal stereotypes of women.
The women depicted in ‘Sit Like a Lady’ are friends with a common interest in equity. The body of work was initially shot in the photographic studio. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, however, the production took a different turn: instead of portraying my sitters in the studio, they were asked to take their own photos at home. This remote documentary strategy opened up new conceptual opportunities. ‘Sit Like a Lady’ has created a community of women eager to continue fighting against the patriarchy through remote collaboration.
Manspreading is a recently coined term which describes ‘the act of a man sitting, especially on public transport, with his legs spread wide apart, in a way that means that the people next to him have less space’ (Cambridge University Press, 2015). When men sit with their legs wide apart the people either side of them have less space. This is something women have to deal with on a daily basis. They compromise their own personal space for a man. To men, manspreading can be seen as a harmless act, and largely goes unnoticed by them, this is male privilege in practice. They have become unaware of their actions that effect women because it doesn’t personally affect them. From my personal point of view as a female, the act of a man taking up a woman’s space translates as a man thinking and believing that he deserves that space more than her. Whatever your interpretations of this act, this is how personally I interpret it and how seriously I take it.
Attending to manspreading through performative photography is an effective way for me to reveal the sexism women experience today because of the patriarchal society in which we exist. Men take up a lot more space than woman, professionally, politically, athletically, and many more areas within
society. The act of the women manspreading in my body of work is a way to communicate my beliefs that women should be taking up their own space too. The idea of taking up space as the key theory in my work.
I initially chose a studio setting because it is a space free from the male gaze when it is just myself and my subject. My subjects could express themselves free from any oppressive spectators and therefore their facial expressions and body language can be more audacious. They don’t have to compromise their attitude in front of me, and as a photographer I’m actively encouraging them to be more fearless.
When my creative process moved into lockdown, I decided to ask my subjects to take their own photos (with my directions) to eliminate agency, or gaze which could potentially make the women less bold and assertive in their poses. I personally know that I am my most authentic self when I am on my own and have no one watching me. I believe this is an effect of the patriarchy, as I have had to dumb myself down or dilute my personality or I have lost confidence in myself because of a man being present and I thought this might be the same for my subjects.
If this work appears controversial to you, you need to think about how you view gender. All these women are doing is copying seated positions of men, if it’s acceptable for a man to do this, then it should be for women. All we want is equity.